Keiser Masagniello furioso
Hamburg opened its opera house in the Gansemarkt in 1678 with, Adam und Eva a biblical singspiel by Johann Theile. But it was Reinhard Keiser and Telemann in the following generation who, more than any other, established a tradition of indigenous German opera distinct from the many imported pieces from Italy and France. Keiser's earliest operas were performed at the Brunswick court during the early 1690s but in 1695 the composer moved to Hamburg which became the main sphere of activity for the remainder of his life.
Two previous recordings of operas by Keiser were seriously flawed. Die Grossmutige Tomyris (EMI, 8/89—nla), was brutally and drastically cut and indifferently performed, and Croesus (Nuova Era (CD) 6934/5) though better sung was marred by scrappy instrumental playing and an unacceptably boxy acoustic. The newcomer, Masagniello furioso is altogether more stylish in approach and furthermore includes an almost uniformly strong east of singers, but the live recorded sound is lustreless, lacking in focus and distant in its perspective. This performance, too, observes several cuts, some of them made by Telemann when he revived the work in the 1720s. The librettist, Bartold Feind based his text on a mid-seventeenth century chronicle, Theatrum Europaeum by J. G. Schleder. This episode concerns the revolt of a fisherman, Tomaso Aniello against Spanish foreign rule in Naples, his victory and the dramatic turn of events brought about by the hero's madness and eventual execution. The work was first performed at the Gansemarkt theatre in 1706. In accordance with Hamburg opera custom the recitative, which is skilfully handled by Keiser, is sung in German along with the greater number of arias while a handful of the latter are sung in Italian. These are either inessential to the unfolding of the plot or are set pieces expressing love or anger.
A striking feature of Keiser's operas is his imaginative and varied deployment of instrumental colours, a gift shared to an even greater extent by Telemann. There is a wealth of ideas in these arias, most of which are cast in da capo form and feature, from time to time, recorders and oboes. There are some fine contributions from the soloists, notably perhaps Barbara Schlick—her aria ''Mein Magnet ist mir entzogen'' (Act 2) comes over particularly well—Wilfried Jochens and David Cordier. Harry van der Kamp, whose performances I have often admired in past recordings, sounds less at ease with his role than most of the other singers. The period-instrument ensemble Fiori Musicali provides sympathetic support throughout though the upper strings sound rather thin and under strength. But the brief little instrumental trio ''Le sommeil'' (Act 3) is affectingly played. Thomas Albert's direction is assured but sometimes lacking dramatic tautness.
On balance, this is the most successful recording of a Keiser opera so far, and baroque music enthusiasts will find much delightful music in it. Full texts are provided but, alas, in German only. A brief synopsis, however, is provided with English and French translations. An interesting release.'